Across classrooms and campuses, teaching and learning may be the core activity observable to the naked eye. But underneath the surface, a different, exceedingly valuable activity is also afoot: connecting. Given the myriad ways in which networks shape access to opportunity, the connections students forge in the course of learning experiences are assets we should be paying attention to.

A core premise of the Institute’s research on innovative approaches to building students’ networks is that all institutions are already brokers of social capital. But—to borrow a phrase from Harvard sociologist Mario Luis Small—today, some institutions are “purposeful” brokers while many others are “non-purposeful” brokers.

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More purposeful steps to brokering relationships for students, however, are within reach. Building a more networked educational model may sound like a daunting task on top of the many demands schools already face. But our research has shown a wide variety of entry points that complement many of the strategic priorities already guiding schools’ work. By leveraging these existing efforts already afoot, schools and postsecondary institutions and programs can become better brokers of social capital for students.

1. Competency-based learning

With competency-based policies spreading nationwide, schools are starting to transform how and when learning takes place. Competency-based approaches don’t just open up time, space and flexibility for learning; designed with the right intentions, they can also do the same for connecting. As a result, competency-based systems can yield not merely richer academic outcomes via mastery-based learning, but more robust networks as well.

About the Author:

Julia Freeland Fisher is the director of education research at the Clayton Christensen Institute. Her work aims to educate policymakers and community leaders on the power of disruptive innovation in the K-12 and higher education spheres.

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